Popular Piety Spotlight: Prayers to St. Michael

St. Michael the Archangel
Image of St. Michael the Archangel, Saint Meinrad Seminary and School of Theology

As we celebrate the liturgical feast of Archangels Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael, it is an opportune moment to reflect on devotional practices of prayer connected with the angels, particularly prayers to St. Michael. The various readings from the Liturgy of the Hours and the mass today make clear that the Archangel Michael is a warrior, a defender of heaven against Satan and evil (Revelation 12:1-17, Office of Readings). Michael is presented as “the great prince, guardian of your people,” who will lead the people of God in escape from the time of distress (Daniel 12:1, Midmorning Prayer). Along with Archangel Gabriel, who announces very important messages, and Archangel Raphael, who offers God’s healing, Archangel Michael is understood to be one of the “seven spirits before [God’s] throne” (Revelation 1:4-5, Evening Prayer). His name means “Who is like God?” and he lives to protect the holiness of God. No one is like God. No one but God is God. Archangel Michael assists in keeping that reality clear – unholy pretenders will not stand.

Thus prayers for the protection of St. Michael have been popular over the ages. At the seminary where I work, the school community has prayed a prayer of St. Michael each day after Morning Prayer since 2018, when Pope Francis requested that the faithful pray the rosary daily, asking the Blessed Mother and St. Michael to protect the Church from the devil. While the pope’s 2018 request came at the time of renewed awareness of sexual abuse in the Church (see his related letter here), earlier he also consecrated the Vatican to St. Michael and St. Joseph in 2013, and has reiterated encouragement of devotion to St. Michael, including in words this week to the Michaelite Fathers.

At Saint Meinrad, we pray the following prayer text:

O glorious prince Saint Michael,
chief and commander of the heavenly hosts,
guardian of souls,
vanquisher of rebel spirits,
servant in the house of the Divine King
and our admirable conductor;
You who shine with superhuman virtue;
deliver us from all evil,
who turn to you with confidence;
and enable us by your gracious protection
to serve God more and more faithfully every day.

This particular prayer comes from the conclusion to the Chaplet of St. Michael, approved by Blessed Pope Pius IX in 1851. The chaplet is said to have come from a vision had by Portuguese Carmelite Servant of God Antonia d’Astonac, during a time when devotion to St. Michael increased dramatically.

A more familiar prayer to St. Michael also comes from the nineteenth century, from Pope Leo XIII:

Saint Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle;
be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil.
May God rebuke him, we humbly pray:
and do thou, O Prince of the heavenly host, by the power of God,
thrust into hell Satan and all the evil spirits
who prowl about the world seeking the ruin of souls. Amen.

St. Michael the Archangel
This carved wood statue of St. Michael the Archangel comes from Guatemala and graces one of the school chapels at Saint Meinrad Seminary and School of Theology in St. Meinrad, Indiana.

As one of several “Leonine Prayers” to be said after mass, this prayer to St. Michael was added in 1886 during a time of great tension between Church and state. After the 1929 resolution resulting in the creation of the Vatican as a city-state, Pope Pius XI requested the prayers be continued for the conversion of Russia. In 1994, in an Angelus talk reflecting on threats against unborn life, Pope John Paul II recalled Pope Leo’s prayer, and noted that while people no longer are expected to pray the Prayer of St. Michael after mass, it is a worthy prayer for protection against evil.

Whether prayed at the conclusion of a rosary, after mass, or at some other time, these prayers to St. Michael are part of a long tradition of regularly turning to heaven for help against forces that would try to destroy the goodness and unity of the Church.

 

8 comments

  1. The prayer used at St. Meinrad’s is marvelous.
    Could you suggest an alternate phrase for “admirable conductor?”
    In our urban community this brings to mind is the conductor on a train, which could be a poetic aspect of St. Michael, but probably isn’t what the author intended.

    1. I chuckle at “admirable conductor” myself, also imagining a well-mannered train conductor! Far be it from me to change the prayer itself, but perhaps something like “venerable guardian” or “accompanying guide” would work.

    2. ‘Cause you know sometimes words have two meanings.

      I think “conductor” is exactly appropriate in this prayer.

  2. Flannery O’Connor’s prayer as found at Novalis, Seeds of Faith Blog:
    Raphael, lead us toward those we are waiting for, those who are waiting for us.
    Raphael, Angel of happy meeting, lead us by the hand toward those we are looking for.
    May all our movements be guided by your Light and transfigured with your joy.

    Angel, guide of Tobias, lay the request we now address to you at the feet of Him on whose unveiled Face you are privileged to gaze.
    Lonely and tired, crushed by the separations and sorrows of life, we feel the need of calling you and of pleading for the protection of your wings, so that we may not be as strangers in the province of joy, all ignorant of the concerns of our country.
    Remember the weak, you who are strong, you whose home lies beyond the region of thunder, in a land that is always peaceful, always serene and bright with the resplendent glory of God.

    1. This is, I believe, not a prayer *by* Flannery O’Connor, but an older Catholic devotional prayer to St Raphael that she (among others) commended to others.

      1. In her letter which makes reference to the prayer, it is attributed to Ernest Hello, according to FOC

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